The Last Lacrosse Frontier: Montana Poised for Growth in 2018

Montana is the fourth largest state, by area, in the United States, but ranks 44th in population, with just over 1 million residents. That dichotomy creates some unique challenges for the state’s estimated 1,600 lacrosse participants.

“Geography is a big challenge because everybody is so spread out,” said Lyn Porterfield, US Lacrosse manager for the Pacific Northwest region.

A short road trip for teams is three hours. Longer roadies can be six to eight hours. Those who live in the state understand that traveling is simply a way of life.

“It can be a constraint, but we’re used to it anyway,” said Chris Naumann, outgoing president of the Montana Chapter of US Lacrosse.

Fortunately, recent trends in Montana demonstrate that the state’s geography is not serving as a hindrance to the sport’s growth.

Since its inception, the Montana Chapter also has served as the Montana Lacrosse Association. In that dual role, the chapter’s board members coordinated local US Lacrosse initiatives, while also serving as the administrators of the statewide high school league, youth league and officials’ organization.

Developing game schedules, assigning officials and coordinating educational clinics were all being handled by one organization. That’s in the process of changing.

Beginning with the 2018 season, the newly created Montana High School Lacrosse Association (MHSLA) will oversee play for both the boys’ and girls’ divisions. A new youth league, with leadership independent from the chapter, is slated to be up and running in 2019. And a new lacrosse officials’ association is in the process of forming.

“After years of discussion, we’re moving forward with these efforts,” said Naumann, who calls Montana one of the last lacrosse frontiers.  “It simply wasn’t sustainable to have the chapter running all these different entities.”

MLA board member Blake Wahrlich, who also coaches youth and high school teams and serves as a US Lacrosse Coach Development Program trainer, will serve as the first president of the new high school association. He was instrumental in drafting the bylaws.

“We looked to some of the other states to see what worked best,” Wahrlich said. “We learned some things from what they had done. It got the ball rolling.”

The double-digit growth rate of the game in recent years served as a catalyst for the upcoming changes. Wahrlich estimates that the state will have 27-30 boys’ and girls’ teams as part of next spring’s inaugural MHSLA season.

Ironically, while Montana’s geography may be a hurdle to overcome, the state’s climate serves as a contributing factor in the game’s growth. Traditional spring sports like baseball and softball are challenging because of the weather.

“It’s hard to play those sports in March, April, and May, but lacrosse is a bit more conducive,” Naumann said.

One of the state’s other traditional sports, ice hockey, also has assisted in laying the groundwork for Lacrosse Athlete Development Model adoption in Montana.  Since hockey utilizes an athlete development model with age-appropriate rules and modifications, the large number of crossover athletes in the state have voiced few objections to embracing similar principles in lacrosse.

“It’s not such a big leap in Montana,” Naumann said.

The MLA facilitated some robust discussions among the various lacrosse constituencies before making the choice for LADM adoption in 2017. The availability of abundant resources for coaches was a significant factor in the final decision.

“US Lacrosse has already done most of the work for us,” Naumann said. “We saw all the advantages. It was a fairly easy decision.”

Porterfield credits the MLA board for its leadership in nurturing the responsible growth of the game and ushering in the necessary changes.

“They have really been committed to making this happen,” she said. “There are some great people involved.”

Keeping their eye on the big picture and the long-term results has served as helpful motivation. “There are some growing pains, but we will be better for it in the end,” Naumann said. 

Locally Grown


The Treasure Valley Youth Lacrosse League (TVYLL) hosted a “Day of Lacrosse” in May to celebrate the end of the lacrosse season.  This annual event is held at Ann Morrison Park near downtown Boise, and featured music, games, raffles, food and vendors.


Bozeman swept the 2017 high school state championships with victories over Hellgate (Missoula) in both boys’ and girls’ lacrosse finals.

Northern California

The Alameda Attack (girls varsity), Chico Rebels (boys varsity), Scorpion Sting (girls’ 14A) and Firehawks Red (boys 14A) were this year’s Northern California Junior Lacrosse Association (NCJLA) champions.


The chapter will induct a new class into its Hall of Fame Nov. 10 at McMenamin’s Kennedy School.


More than 70 youth boys’ and girls’ teams from Washington, Idaho, Montana and British Columbia participated in the Spokane Youth Lacrosse League’s sixth-annual Laxfest tournament in May.

Picture This

Way to Go, Idaho

The first ever girls’ lacrosse game to be played in Pocatello, Idaho, featured high school teams from Twin Falls, Idaho, and Jackson, Wy.  The Pocatello Lacrosse Club was the recipient of a 2017 US Lacrosse National Diversity and Inclusion Grant.

My USL Rep

Lyn Porterfield | Pacific Northwest Region

Lyn Porterfield joined US Lacrosse in December 2016, after 20-plus years as a photo producer and a three-year stint as executive director of the Washington Schoolgirls Lacrosse Association.  She grew up riding horses in northern California, but was introduced to lacrosse by her kids, who played in high school and college. She has been a women’s official for six years and tries to join her husband, Patrick, a fly-fishing guide, on the river as much as possible.

How can US Lacrosse help grow the sport in your area? Contact Lyn at or 410-235-6882, extension 114.

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